Truckee and North Lake Tahoe is not known for having a long growing season when it comes to edible landscaping and home gardening. Luckily, there are tools and tips available to help get you started with home gardening if you’re new to the area or ideas on how to extend your at-home growing season.
The first thing to know before preparing your at-home garden is when your growing season starts and ends. In the Truckee-Tahoe area, we typically work with a 3-month season, ranging around June 15 to September 15. The start is determined by the last frost of the Spring season and the first frost of the coming Fall. If you plan on growing your crops by seed, you may start these indoors about one month before you plan on transplanting the starts into the ground. Read the back of the seed packet to understand how long each plant will take to sprout and later be ready for outdoor transplanting. With such cold Springs in North Lake Tahoe, we recommend keeping your starts away from doors and windows and using a grow light. This will help kickstart strong plants for an easier transition to be moved outdoors in the Summer.
Preparing your Garden
The next things to consider when preparing your outdoor edible garden is where it will be and your soil health. Do you plan on having an in-ground garden? Will you build or buy raised beds? Or will you grow food in pots on the deck? These are all viable options but one of the most important factors is sunlight. Depending on your crop, most vegetables will want to be hit by direct sunlight for at least 6 hours a day. To help make your decision on where to put your garden, start observing your deck and yard at different times of the day. Note that the sun will shift a bit as the season moves closer to summer and south-facing areas will receive the most light.
Another important factor is your soil health. Our local soil is fairly acidic due to the dropping of pine needles so you’ll want to even that out with some alkaline amendments if growing in in-ground beds. Proper amendments include lime, sold at your local hardware store, or even wood ashes saved from your very own furnace! To add more nutrients to your soil, you can add homemade compost or contact a local horse ranch for manure. If you are purchasing potting soil, find something that has good drainage but not too coarse or mulch-like. These soil bags will already have most of the vital nutrients your plants need, like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, but double check on your specific crop’s need for a successful plant.
Working with the Elements
As previously mentioned, we have a pretty short window to grow our own food here in Truckee-North Lake Tahoe. Not to mention, a last-minute snow or frost could completely ruin your crops if you’re not prepared. To help extend your season, we have a couple tips on how to work with the elements.
Creating hoops to hold a canopy of frost cloth (a white sheet-like material) is a fantastic tool to transition your seed-starts to the outdoors early on in the season. Unpredictable cold temperatures could still come through at the start of June so it’s important to stay on top of the forecast and protect your crops. You may stake rebar at the corners of your raised planter or along every six feet or so of your in-ground bed and arch PVC pipes onto that rebar. You will then drape the frost cloth over the hoops and use clips to hold it tight. To keep the cloth from flying in the wind, we recommend staking the bottom to the ground or placing rocks along the edges. If you’re growing in a pot on the deck, you may use a traditional tomato trellis and clip some frost cloth to that! These tools will also come in handy to elongate your season when summer is heading towards an end and night temperatures begin to get cooler.
Guarding from Pests
We’ve all seen deer and rabbits jaunt through our yards and it won’t take long to figure out you’re growing something tasty outside. If your garden is accessible to these critters, we recommend putting up netting around your crops. This could either be in the form of a perimeter fence around your entire planting area or netting around each individual bed. You may place stakes at the corners of your desired planting area and simply wrap plastic mesh netting around, tying the net along the stakes. Note that you will need access into your garden beds for planting, harvesting, and maintenance so to design your fencing with that in mind.
The Gist (from Farmer Christy)
Whether this is your first time growing food in your Tahoe backyard or you’re a master gardener for this region, I hope you learned something to make this next growing season your best! My overarching advice is to keep your young sprouts warm and to take advantage of the use of frost cloth to keep harvesting into the fall. Critters and pests may try to find their way to your crops but have fun creating an aesthetically pleasing net system to keep unwelcomed animals away. The best part about growing food is sharing the bounty with your friends, family and neighbors alike so enjoy the process and please share your garden photos with us at firstname.lastname@example.org!